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Aligning Work and Personal Priorities

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Aligning Work and Personal Priorities: Making it a Reality
Is work-life balance an oxymoron in your organization? The state of the U.S. economy in the last few years has forced many workers in Hawaii to hold multiple jobs, work longer hours, and rise to the challenge of mounting workloads. For many families in the State, paying bills and affording life's necessities present a constant strain. What happens at work affects our personal lives and our personal woes affect our work. Can we really compartmentalize work and personal life? Is there such a thing as balance? Perhaps our focus should be on harmonizing and aligning our work and personal priorities. Balance implies equal focus but sometimes work takes precedence while at other times our personal lives require additional focus. Having harmony within each area and between the two is critical for both the employee's and the organization's wellbeing.


The Importance of Work-Live Balance
From an organizational perspective, work-life balance is an important component for creating productive work environments that retain and engage employees. A survey conducted in late 2011 by OfficeTeam showed that for employees work-life balance was the top issue contributing to job satisfaction (28%). The importance of work-life balance to job satisfaction was even higher among employees between the ages of 35 and 44 (46%). Managers recognize this factor as evidenced by the same survey. They know that employees value work-life balance (SHRM, 2012). Yet, often managers don't have the tools or cultural support to help employees achieve a sense of harmony.

As shown by a survey about policies for work-life balance conducted by SHRM in June 2011, managers are a critical link to achieving work-life balance. The survey conducted of its membership reported that only a small number of organizations have formal, written work-life balance policies (24%), while the majority of organizations (76%) have informal policies that are left for managers to handle individually (SHRM, 2012). As human resources professionals, we know that having formal policies in place will not guaranty work-life balance in organizations as policies may be interpreted and administered inconsistently. In addition, work-life balance is a personal matter. Each employee has specific circumstances, goals and needs that differ. So, how can organizations improve the chances of creating harmonious environments? A supportive culture with managers and top executives who demonstrate harmony in their own lives is a good start. Managers and employees also need tools to help them to mutually create a workable plan that meets both the organization's and the employee's needs. A tool like an Accountability Agreement can help when adapted for work-life balance purposes.


Supportive Culture
As shown by a survey about policies for work-life balance conducted by SHRM in June 2011, managers are a critical link to achieving work-life balance. The survey conducted of its membership reported that only a small number of organizations have formal, written work-life balance policies (24%), while the majority of organizations (76%) have informal policies that are left for managers to handle individually (SHRM, 2012). As human resources professionals, we know that having formal policies in place will not guaranty work-life balance in organizations as policies may be interpreted and administered inconsistently. In addition, work-life balance is a personal matter. Each employee has specific circumstances, goals and needs that differ. So, how can organizations improve the chances of creating harmonious environments? A supportive culture with managers and top executives who demonstrate harmony in their own lives is a good start. Managers and employees also need tools to help them to mutually create a workable plan that meets both the organization's and the employee's needs. A tool like an Accountability Agreement can help when adapted for work-life balance purposes. Often we cannot explain these beliefs unless we go back in time to examine what created them.

Although your corporate values might say that your company supports work-life balance, the underlying beliefs and consequently your actions may be inconsistent with this value. Cultural assessment and change is beyond the scope of this article (see references for more resources); however, an inquiry specifically focused on work-life harmony can help understand underlying beliefs and if needed shift beliefs and behaviors around work-life harmony.

As shown by a survey about policies for work-life balance conducted by SHRM in June 2011, managers are a critical link to achieving work-life balance. The survey conducted of its membership reported that only a small number of organizations have formal, written work-life balance policies (24%), while the majority of organizations (76%) have informal policies that are left for managers to handle individually (SHRM, 2012).

As human resources professionals, we know that having formal policies in place will not guaranty work-life balance in organizations as policies may be interpreted and administered inconsistently. In addition, work-life balance is a personal matter. Each employee has specific circumstances, goals and needs that differ. So, how can organizations improve the chances of creating harmonious environments? A supportive culture with managers and top executives who demonstrate harmony in their own lives is a good start. Managers and employees also need tools to help them to mutually create a workable plan that meets both the organization's and the employee's needs. A tool like an Accountability Agreement can help when adapted for work-life balance purposes.

Corporate culture can be difficult to interpret, especially if you have been part of that culture for a while. You must look beyond the values espoused by the organization. People do things because they are driven by "underlying beliefs" that have been formed and reinforced by management's past behaviors, how rewards have been divvied out, the consequences applied to actions, and the handling of situations. Often we cannot explain these beliefs unless we go back in time to examine what created them.

Although your corporate values might say that your company supports work-life balance, the underlying beliefs and consequently your actions may be inconsistent with this value. Cultural assessment and change is beyond the scope of this article (see references for more resources); however, an inquiry specifically focused on work-life harmony can help understand underlying beliefs and if needed shift beliefs and behaviors around work-life harmony.


Inquiry into Alignment of Priorities
An organization's best sources for solutions to work-life harmony are the employees and managers who deal with this issue every day. By conducting an Appreciative Inquiry, the company can understand what has worked in the past and what more can be done to enhance the experience and success.

An Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a positive, solution-focused approach to change. The process encourages everyone in the organization to have a voice in the matter being discussed by inviting them to participate in individual interviews or group discussions, often called summits. AI assumes that we all have had experiences worth contributing whether from professional or personal perspectives. See references for further resources on Appreciative Inquiry.

A topic that zeros into the core of the inquiry is selected and described in appreciative terms. For example, for the work-life balance issue, the topic could be about experiences with alignment between work and personal priorities. It seeks to understand when alignment has been experienced at its best. By understanding what the underlying conditions of success were, organizations can re-create those conditions in new contexts going forward. See Table 1 for sample questions that may be used in the inquiry.



The stories from individual interviews or summits are used to identify themes, suggestions and opportunities. The organization as a whole may declare intentions (values, policies, practices, etc.) based on the outcomes from the AI. More important, managers and employees can formulate action plans that will work for them. Their involvement leads to understanding the core issues and what can be done to resolve them. The outcomes can be crafted into performance management plans or outlined in specific performance contracts. Accountability Agreements could serve as a tool for aligning work and personal priorities.

An Accountability Agreement is a personal contract between the employee, manager and company. It outlines the results the employee promises to deliver, the resources and support he/she needs to deliver the outcomes, and the positive consequences the employee can expect to receive in return for delivering on the contract. Typically the Agreement focuses on outcomes linked to business goals; however, the process and document can be adapted to include the individual's personal priorities. Accountability Agreements could replace performance management plans or may be integrated with performance appraisal programs. See Table 2 for an example of typical key elements of Accountability Agreements and what each element covers.

For more information on Accountability Agreements, please see the resources section.



Table 3 shows an Accountability and Alignment Agreement that broadens the scope of the contract between employee and employer. Contributions are discussed within the context of personal priorities and the higher purpose of the individual's life.



What's Your Organizational Plan?
Aligning work and personal priorities clearly benefits both organizations and employees. Even with formal work-life balance policies in place, organizations need to assess how well they are making work-life balance realistic for employees. Start with understanding the experiences that can make a difference to both employees and managers. How can they achieve alignment that leads to success for both the organization and the individual? Tools like an Accountability and Alignment Agreement can help managers and employees articulate what they need to do and continually monitor and adjust along the way.


Lia Bosch, MSOD, CHRP is founder of Creative Edge Consulting & Books. She has 30 years of experience in human resources management helping organizations identify innovative ways to optimize business with human potential. Lia has written several articles for local and international journals. Visit her website at www.creativ-edge.com
for more articles. You can also reach her at bosch@creativ-edge.com.

Article Resources and References
"Work/Life Balance, Learning Opportunities Impact on Job Satisfaction" Accessed September 8, 2012 or "OfficeTeam Survey: Work/Life Balance, Learning Opportunities Have Greatest Impact on Job Satisfaction" at http://officeteam.rhi.mediaroom.com/jobsatistfaction.

SHRM Survey Findings: Work/Life Balance Policies, July 12, 2012.

Lockwood, Nancy R., "Work/Life Balance: Challenges and Solutions", SHRM 2003
Research Quarterly, USA.

Schein, Edgar H., Organizational Culture and Leadership, Third Edition, San Francisco,
CA, 2004.

Resources on Appreciative Inquiry:
Hammond, Sue Annis,The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry, 2nd Edition, USA, 1996.
(for an introduction)

"Using AI to Improve the Quality of Work Life, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services",
Appreciative Inquiry Commons website, 05/01/2002. (reference to Work-Life Balance project)

http://appreciativeinquiry.case.edu/
(official AI site on research, articles, tools - wealth of information).